Richarlison shows why he’s one in 200 million for Brazil

“You’re leaving Pombo alone here,” laughs Tite. Brazil’s coach had just completed his media duties for the evening, the espresso cup drained in his hand. “I’m not going to be able to hug Richarlison?” he said disappointed. Brazil’s match-winner was tied up in an anti-doping control, waiting for the call of nature.

“I’m trying to pee, it’s hard,” Richarlison said, though he wasted no time.

“I was able to call Ney and see how he was doing,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar buried his head in his yellow and green jersey to hide the tears after spraining his right ankle, and Tite “cheated” by playing through the pain line for another 11 minutes against Serbia. “I told him to put some ice on it,” Richarlison said as if he were a member of Brazil’s medical staff.

Despite Tite’s confidence Neymar will “keep playing in the World Cup”, past injuries in this competition have been a haunting theme of his career and will continue to haunt him.

Richarlison promised to swing by his room at the Westin before bed. “When I get to the hotel, I’ll check on him,” he said. Richarlison is unlikely to sleep, the buzz of the goal of the tournament unlikely to fade on the short bus ride from Lusail.

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“I think it was a beautiful goal,” he said. “I have already scored such a goal for Fluminense and Everton. Today I had the opportunity to score an acrobatic goal, possibly one of the most beautiful goals of my career. It was a tough match so I think it was one of the best of my career.” Scissor kicks are a Richarlison brand after all. He even one recorded last week at a training camp in Turin.

“This is the result of practice,” Fred said in the mixed zone. “It’s not easy to get there and score. This is the result of his training and the whole group.”

Practice makes perfect. At half-time against Serbia, the score still 0-0, Richarlison gathered his teammates around him and said something had to change. “I told them I needed a ball and it arrived, I was ready and I managed to score.”

The first one was a tap-in after Vanja Milinkovic-Savic wasted a Vini Jnr shot. The second was something else. Earlier this week, Richarlison’s team-mate Pedro, a contender for the role of Brazil’s starting striker, said the Tottenham Hotspur striker had the essencia do brasileiro – the essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved that.

On the metro going to the game, there were fans from all over the world heading to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football as it should be played with flair and skill persists, it has a hold on the imagination.

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Affluent Qataris in Brazil shirts wanted to show their children what soccer is all about. Richarlison’s goal was just that, the manifestation of the Brazilian ideal that goes back to Pele and Garrincha in 1958.

It started with an outside leg cross from Vinicius Jnr. Richarlison then stun the ball with his left, lifted the ball high into the air, placed a hand on the floor and spun his right foot on it, Capoeira style, and hooked a shot past the grief-stricken Milinkovic-Savic.

As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench jumped out of the dugout and ran down to the corner flag to celebrate with him and the rest of the team.

Even Tite got carried away. “Sometimes feelings can’t be explained,” he said. “They are feelings.” Dressed in a cobalt blue suit, the 61-year-old wanted to convey “how much work there is behind that goal.”

He spoke about the physios, who are now working on Neymar, helping to get Richarlison back into shape after the calf injury he suffered against former club Everton in mid-October.

Richarlison was “terrified”, panicked that it could disrupt his World Cup tournament. Tite was also worried.

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When Gabriel Jesus was sent off in the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, potentially jeopardizing Brazil’s chances of winning the competition, Richarlison stepped up and coolly scored the penalty that killed the game.

He was leading scorer at the 2020 Olympics when Brazil won the gold medal and Brazil’s top scorer in 2022. “It’s like O’Professor (Tite) says,” Richarlison reminded everyone on Thursday night. He “smells” goals. This is why he is being picked over Arsenal’s in-form Jesus.

Looking ahead to Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Piksi Stojkovic, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (to choose from). We are a small nation.” If Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic are injured and Aleksandar Mitrovic is not fully fit, this is a problem.

Tite on the other hand has been dropping his options in Qatar and those he left at home such as Copa Libertadores winner Gabriel Barbosa, Roberto Firmino, Matheus Cunha and Hulk. It serves to underline the competition Richarlison faced to make the No.9 shirt his own.

He is one in 200m. “It’s a kid’s dream come true,” smiled Richarlison.

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(Photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)


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